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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -
Efforts to combat the latest wave of synthetic drugs coming into the United States culminated in a massive, simultaneous takedown operation Wednesday by 29 states, including Alabama.
The national effort is Phase 2 of the Drug Enforcement Agency's "Project Synergy", designed to focus on drug networks, their sources of supply, and the flow of the drug money on a global scale.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and 35 local, state and federal agencies worked together on Alabama's operation, known as "Operation Red Tide".
"Alabamians should know that synthetic drugs are dangerous to their health, and as Governor, I am going to do everything I can to rid Alabama of these drugs," Governor Robert Bentley said. "I appreciate the partnership with our federal, state and local law enforcement officers to confiscate synthetic drugs in Alabama."
Governor Bentley held a news conference to discuss some of the specific aspects of the operation, bringing in several key players including Barry Matson with the Alabama District Attorney's Association, Secretary of Law Enforcement and Homeland Security Director Spencer Collier, and Keith Brown with the DEA.
Operation Red Tide spanned 10 Alabama counties including Dallas, DeKalb, Etowah, Houston, Jefferson, Lee, Madison, Montgomery, Morgan and Shelby.
It netted 38 arrests, the seizure of more than 200 pounds of 'spice', and the confiscation of 19 guns and $500,000 in cash and bank accounts.
"Today's events represent the culmination of months of teamwork between state, local, and federal partners," said Secretary Collier. "Synthetic drugs are a rising problem in Alabama and in the nation. I am proud that Alabama has led the nation in passing comprehensive legislation to combat this problem. ALEA will continue to work with our local and federal partners to disrupt the production and distribution of synthetic drugs."
Officials report nationwide that $20 million in cash and assets were seized, 150 people were arrested, and hundreds of thousands of individually packaged, ready-to-sell synthetic drugs, as well as hundreds of kilograms of raw products, were taken off the streets.
"The manufacture, sale, and abuse of synthetic drugs represents a clear danger to our society. These synthetic substances are designed and manufactured with no controls on the safety of the substance, and no goal other than generating a more powerful high for the user, and a larger profit for the individuals and organizations manufacturing and selling these highly dangerous drugs," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Keith Brown. "People who use Spice and other synthetics risk death at the hands of unknown, powerful chemicals that are generally produced in foreign labs with no thought for safety and the potential negative effects produced by these substances."
Investigators targeted retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers and the DEA says many of their investigations show the money is flowing into countries in the Middle East and elsewhere.
During a raid on a Birmingham gas station Wednesday morning, Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Rusty Payne told Raycom News Network partner WBRC that they are targeting new "designer" synthetic drugs that come from China. Payne alleges the gas station was buying the materials wholesale from China, packaging it, and selling it.
A raid in Montgomery occurred at a convenience store on the East South Boulevard, though law enforcement did not identify the specific store. Officers were unable to recover anything at the location. Someone who was involved with spice sales in Montgomery was apprehended in North Carolina as a part of the operation.
A raid in Houston County resulted in five arrests. The Sheriff's Department says mugshots on four of the suspects are currently released. They are Benjamin Mclendon, Joanna S. Mathis, Roberto Ward and Tywanda Blackman. More arrests are expected.
Payne says the DEA met Tuesday with an Alabama family suffering the loss of their son this week to the drugs. "Any time we see a small smoke shop in Alabama sending tens of millions
of dollars to Yemen, it gives us a great deal of concern," Payne said.
are always coming up with new formulations," he added. "New designer drugs come here
and we are used as human guinea pigs and people are suffering and dying because
DEA officials say in 2008 there were for known spice recipes. Now, there are more than 200.